Choosing and using a food thermometer

food thermometerFood thermometers can play an important safety role when you’re grilling summer meals.

“With everyone’s concern over food safety, it only makes sense to check that meats and other foods are being cooked to proper temperatures,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “It’s the last thing you can do to assure the safety of freshly cooked food.”

Most food safety educators suggest picking a digital thermometer because it is tip-sensitive.

“It’s a tool just like a frying pan,” said Dr. Benjamin Chapman, associate professor of food safety at North Carolina State University. “The more you cook, the more investment you put into your tools.”

Different prices for digital thermometers typically are related to their durability, speed and special features such as smartphone compatibility or being fully dishwasher safe.

Dial thermometers, or bi-metallic stems, are “fine in a jam, but they do have to be calibrated,” Chapman said. He noted that digital thermometers also can be calibrated and that he checks his at least once a year, usually around Thanksgiving.

When using a food thermometer, check the “cool spot” of the food. If it is meat or poultry, try to get the thermometer’s sensor into the thickest part of the muscle, away from bone. Most digital thermometers have a sensor one-eighth of an inch away from the tip, but in dial types, the sensor can be up to an inch away.

If the food item is at less than minimum temperature, wash the thermometer before taking another reading. If the food is contaminated, washing the probe helps keep from reintroducing any pathogens to the meat.

Chapman suggests checking the temperature at multiple spots of the food since heat could be distributed unevenly. Thermometers aren’t just for use with meat; people who are immunocompromised need all their food to be thoroughly cooked and can use a food thermometer to check their fruits and vegetables too.

All food should be cooked to the minimum recommended internal temperatures as measured with a thermometer before removing food from the heat source. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, beef, pork, veal, ham and lamb should be cooked to 145 degrees and allowed to rest for at least three minutes; ground meats should be cooked to 160 degrees, poultry to 160 degrees and fish and shellfish to 145 degrees.

For more information on food safety, visit vdacs.virginia.gov/foodsafety.

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